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Entrepreneurship in Canada: A guide for newcomers

22 April 2020 by National Bank
Immigrants entrepreneurs

How do you successfully start a business in Canada? Where do you start? What kind of challenges can you expect? And how do you ensure that you’ll achieve your goals? Starting or bringing over a business is less complex in Canada than it is in other countries. Here’s an overview.

How do you prepare a new business project?

For Mélanie Da Ponte, director, international office – Canada at National Bank, the answer is clear. “The first thing to do before immigrating as an entrepreneur is to do your research on the Canadian market. Head over to the Canadian embassy and, if applicable, to the Quebec delegation in your home country. They’ll be able to point you towards the relevant resources and provide you with all the necessary documentation.”

Once you’ve asked yourself the right questions and are convinced of your project’s viability, Mélanie Da Ponte suggests going a step further. “If you have the chance to visit your host country before moving there, seize that opportunity. There’s nothing like personally getting a feel for the particularities of your business sector and its environment.”

After that, do your homework and prepare a solid business plan. This document is crucial for you and your financial institution. It structures and simplifies the discussion when comes the time to meet an account manager, both in terms of opening a bank account and applying for financing. “To grant financing, banks look at the actual entrepreneur. A well-prepared entrepreneur is more likely to be successful,” confesses Mélanie Da Ponte. To build a good business plan by the book, you can refer to the My Business Model guide, developed in collaboration between HEC Montreal Institution for Entrepreneurship and National Bank.  

Cultural differences aren’t the only thing you’ll have to adapt to. You’ll also have to familiarize yourself with the particularities of the Canadian banking system. One barrier to entry for a newcomer will be their lack of credit history. It will be important to build one on a personal level, as your business’s needs will depend on it. 

It’s also best if you master certain basic concepts in terms of business law, taxes and accounting. Don’t underestimate the importance of having good support. Representation offices abroad are there to help you prepare your business in Canada before you leave and to help you structure it once you arrive. “Our network of business partners is at your disposal, we’ll point you towards the right resources, and we’ll suggest banking services that suit your needs,” Mélanie Da Ponte maintains. 

Programs to make your business project a reality 

There are many incubators and accelerators that help future entrepreneurs and those who want to bring over an existing business. They can offer you support and mentorship when it comes to financing, management, networking, and attracting new clients, investors, or talent. Some even provide training programs for immigrant entrepreneurs. 

In Ontario, we encourage you to take a look at the following incubators and accelerators: 

In Quebec, we encourage you to take a look at the following incubators and accelerators:

  • ACET is aimed at tech businesses in the Sherbrooke area. 
  • Accélérateur Banque Nationale – HEC Montréal (French only) supports startup entrepreneurs and expanding businesses. 
  • Centech, founded by ÉTS in Montreal, powers tech businesses. 
  • La Piscine is aimed at creative and cultural entrepreneurs. 
  • Réseau M offers a mentorship service for entrepreneurs throughout the province. 

Also, look into the various government immigration programs in the province you’re moving to. The process for getting a visa varies depending on what you plan on doing in the country. “Provinces encourage both new businesses as well as ones that are supported by an incubator, accelerator or university entrepreneurship centre. If you’re thinking of acquiring an existing company instead, the immigration process will be different,” Mélanie Da Ponte explains. 

Important considerations to take into account

“You often hear that it’s difficult to get recognition for foreign work experience once you arrive in Canada. And yet, that isn’t really a factor that matters when you’re a business owner. You don’t have anything to prove to anyone; you’ll be the head of your own company. Any talks you have with your account manager will revolve around your experience and abilities as they relate to your objective. Also, will you need key employees to support you?” Mélanie Da Ponte adds.  

“A lack of personal credit history is a barrier for newcomers because financial institutions depend on that to give out financing. One of my responsibilities at the international office is to prepare newcomers for this. I advise them to open a personal bank account using the newcomers to Canada program at the National Bank.” Mélanie Da Ponte then recommends that immigrant entrepreneurs get a cell phone as soon as they arrive in the country. “Tie your monthly bill to your credit card and make sure to pay it off in full every month. In six to nine months, you’ll have built a credit history.”

The risks associated with starting a business come from a lack of information, which quickly needs to be rectified. In the face of legal, accounting and financial realities in a new business environment, an immigrant entrepreneur must avoid falling into the trap of isolating themselves. Getting mentorship (French only) and advice from experts in Quebec business culture will save you a lot of time and money. 

“Don’t forget that the services of an immigration lawyer can be invaluable,” Mélanie Da Ponte adds as a friendly reminder. “They can help you find the right immigration visa to help you start the kind of business you have in mind.” 

Should I immigrate to the big city or to a small town? 

“There are many tax-related incentives to working in a small town,” Mélanie Da Ponte admits. “In Quebec, for example, the entrepreneur program requires an initial investment, lest you move outside of Montreal.” As a matter of fact, you’ll have to make a $400,000 deposit if you immigrate to a small town, compared to $500,000 if you settle in the Greater Montreal Area (GMA). 

“Beyond tax incentives, there are pros and cons to living in a small town. The most important thing is the success of your business. Your decision should factor in the industry that your business will be a part of,” Mélanie Da Ponte continues. “If you work in insurance, it’s best if you move to Quebec City, where the headquarters of the major insurance companies are located. If your field is artificial intelligence, you’ll want to choose Montreal.”

As you know, there’s no guarantee to the success of an entrepreneur. But the effort you put into starting your business does matter. Mélanie Da Ponte encourages entrepreneurs to “find the right information, find the right tools, and most importantly, find the right people!”

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